Matching family tree profiles for Marilyn Miller
About Marilyn Miller
The unquestioned queen of Broadway musical comedy in the 1920s Mariyln Miller was only five years old when she became a member of her family's vaudeville act. She only made three films and would have made more had she not died at the age of 37. Her life was made into a biopic in Look for the Silver Lining (1949) starring June Haver as Miller. For her contribution to the motion picture industry, Miller received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6301 Hollywood Blvd.
She was born Mary Ellen Reynolds on September 1, 1898 in Evansville, Indiana, the youngest daughter of Edwin D. Reynolds, a telephone lineman, and his first wife, the former Ada Lynn Thompson. The tiny, delicate-featured blonde beauty was only four years old when, as "Mademoiselle Sugarlump," she debuted at Lakeside Park in Dayton, Ohio as a member of her family's vaudeville act, the Columbian Trio, which then included Marilyn's step-father, Oscar Caro Miller, and two older sisters, Ruth and Claire. They were re-christened the Five Columbians after Marilyn and her mother joined the routine. From their home base in Findlay, Ohio, they toured the Midwest and Europe in variety for ten years, skirting the child labor authorities, before Lee Shubert discovered Marilyn at the Lotus Club in London in 1914.
Miller appeared for the Shuberts in the 1914 and 1915 editions of The Passing Show, a Broadway revue at the Winter Garden Theatre, as well as in The Show of Wonders (1916) and Fancy Free (1918). But it was Florenz Ziegfeld who made her a star after she performed in his Ziegfeld Follies of 1918, at the famed New Amsterdam Theatre on 42nd Street, with music by Irving Berlin. Sharing billing with Eddie Cantor, Will Rogers and W.C. Fields, she brought the house down with her impersonation of Ziegfeld's wife, Billie Burke, in a number entitled Mine Was a Marriage of Convenience.
She followed as a headliner in the Follies of 1919, dancing to Berlin's "Mandy", and reputedly became Ziegfeld's mistress, though this was never proven. Miller attained legendary status in the Ziegfeld production Sally (1920) with music by Jerome Kern, especially for her performance of Kern's "Look for the Silver Lining."
After a rift with Ziegfeld, she signed with rival producer Charles Dillingham and starred as Peter Pan in a 1924 Broadway revival, then as a circus queen in Sunny (1925), with music by Kern and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein. A box-office smash, it featured the classic Who?, and made her the highest paid star on Broadway. In 1928, after reuniting with Ziegfeld, she starred in his production of the successful George Gershwin musical Rosalie then in Smiles (1930) with Fred Astaire, a rare Ziegfeld box office failure.
Miller's movie career was short-lived and less successful than her stage career. She made only three films: adaptations of Sally (1929); and Sunny (1930); and Her Majesty Love (1931), with W.C. Fields. Her last Broadway show, marking a major comeback, was the innovative 1933-34 Irving Berlin/Moss Hart musical, As Thousands Cheer, in which she appeared in the production number, "Easter Parade".
As it turned out, her appearance in As Thousands Cheer was her last professional outing. Miller quit the show after her boyfriend and future husband Chester O'Brien (a chorus dancer who served as the production's second assistant stage manager) was fired for allowing the Woolworth department store heir Jimmy Donahue to sneak onstage during a scene in which the actress was impersonating Donahue's cousin, the heiress Barbara Hutton. After Miller's death, this incident gave Irving Berlin the inspiration for a film musical, On the Avenue, for which he received a script credit in addition to writing the songs. At the time of her death, Miller was described as having been in retirement.
Miller was married to:
- Frank Carter, an actor and acrobatic dancer, whom she married on 24 May 1919 at the Church of the Ascension in New York City. He was killed in a car accident in Cumberland, Maryland, on 9 May 1920. Carter was portrayed by Gordon MacRae in the Marilyn Miller biopic Look for the Silver Lining.
- Jack Pickford, an actor and the brother of film star Mary Pickford; previously married to the popular movie actress Olive Thomas, he was a drug and alcohol abuser. They were married in 1922, separated in 1926, and divorced in Versailles, France, in November 1927. Miller had attempted to secure a divorce in the Paris courts in the spring of 1927, but her published comments about how easy it would be to end her marriage in France "stirred the ire of the Paris Tribunal with the result that the court would take no action on Miss Miller's petition". The actress filed for divorce the following July in the nearby city of Versailles, whose tribunal eventually ended the marriage.
- Chester Lee O'Brien, a chorus dancer, who she married on 4 October 1934, in Harrison, New York. Several years older than her groom, Miller reportedly spent more than $56,000 on O'Brien during their brief time together. O'Brien, who later was known professionally as Chet O'Brien, went on to become a stage manager for such Broadway productions as Brigadoon and Finian's Rainbow.